“Celebrating Gainsboro” Presentation to Take Place at the RHEC

February 15, 2023

“Celebrating Gainsboro,” a presentation about Roanoke, Virginia’s Historic Gainsboro neighborhood, will be hosted at the Roanoke Higher Education Center on Wednesday, February 15, 2023, from 11:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m. in honor of Black History Month. The presentation is sponsored by the Roanoke Higher Education Center, Virginia Tech Roanoke Center, and Roanoke Public Libraries. The event is free, open to the public, and will include presentations from three speakers on their roles in preserving and sharing Gainsboro’s rich history.

The Gainsboro neighborhood of Roanoke, Virginia was once a thriving business and entertainment district for African Americans. The original 1835 settlement of “Gainesborough” became a vibrant center of Black culture and business, bustling at one point with over 200 African American-owned businesses. Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux had ties to Gainsboro, along with other Black historical figures such as civil rights attorney Oliver Hill and educator Lucy Addison. Beginning in the 1950s, urban renewal projects in Roanoke City devastated the Gainsboro community, displacing families, and destroying homes and businesses. Many individuals have worked to preserve and share the history of what was lost, including our three presenters.

“Celebrating Gainsboro” Presenters:

Jordan Bell - Local historian, educator, and activist, Jordan Bell began the initiative Gainsboro Revisited in 2017 to preserve, learn, and teach the history of the Gainsboro community. Bell conducts regular walking tours of the Gainsboro neighborhood where he points out historic locations, talks about prominent community figures, and discusses urban renewal’s destructive role in displacing African Americans in Roanoke City.

Evie Slone - Director of community planning for Roanoke’s Hill Studio, Evie Slone played an instrumental role in creating signage in the Gainsboro neighborhood to honor and share its history. This includes the Gainsboro History Walk panels along Wells Avenue, as well as interpretive panels on the exterior of the renovated Claude Moore Education Complex along Henry Street.

Carla L. James, Ph.D. – In collaboration with Slone, Senior Director of Academic and Student Services for the Roanoke Higher Education Center (RHEC) Dr. Carla L. James played an integral role in creating historical markers for the RHEC’s Central Walkway Plaza, as well as The Gainsboro History Project website. Located on the RHEC campus, the Central Walkway Plaza features granite markers engraved with local historical themes and events from 1835-1970. Complementing the walkway is The Gainsboro History Project, an interactive history and walking tour of African American influence in Gainsboro. Utilizing text, graphics, and video, the website provides stories reflecting the contributions of the people who lived and worked in Gainsboro.